On this blog I’ve shared a bunch of posts about clothing I bought. Sometimes new clothing, like when I bought underwear or tights. But mostly secondhand, such as this jeans I bought or this swimsuit. In each post I explain the choices I make, but I realized I never really wrote a guide on how to buy sustainable clothes. So, here it is today!
Whenever I buy clothing there’s a bunch of questions I ask and steps I walk through. It’s a standard thing for me and happens all inside my head. That to me is all logical, it’s normal. But, I get that when you’re just starting to buy sustainable clothes it can be hard to decided what is sustainable and what is not. So here are the stept I follow.
1. Ask yourself If you really need it
I plan on mastering the whole capsule wardrobe thing one day, but today that’s not the case yet. If I succeed, I’ll share. But for now, I’m still searching for which clothes are good for me and which I actually wear. Sometimes you just know when you need something, for example when a piece of clothing breaks, like shoes. Then you actually need new ones. But when you find a piece of clothing in a store or online, you can actually wait and not purchase it just yet. Let it sink in, do I really need this? I used to have three denim jackets, while I actually only need one. So, think, do I have something similar in my closet or will this add something totally different to my collection? Let it sink in for a couple of days and don’t buy it immediately. Do you still want it really bad after a couple of days? Then, you can buy it.
2. Buy secondhand
New clothes are extremely harmful for our environment. They need a lot of water, use a lot of land, need to be shipped and, of course, need to be made. The most impact from by a single person is caused by the things they buy. So, the most sustainable thing you can do is buy nothing new. Secondhand on the other hand (you get it?), is different. It’s basically trash from another person, because they want to get rid of it. But the fact that it does not add value to that person’s life anymore, does not mean it cannot add value to someone else’s. So please don’t throw your old clothes away either, bring them to a thrift shop! Buying secondhand is a great way to create that perfect capsule wardrobe you want. Because, when you buy secondhand there is no impact made. It’s a great way to find your style, but don’t overdo it. If you buy a ton of clothes secondhand and don’t wear them, it’s still a waste. So, like I said at number 1, think before you buy something. Still bought something you don’t like in the end? Give it another life and bring it back to the thrift shop. I’m planning on writing a blogpost about Enschede’s best thrift shops for clothes, but you can just search for thrift shops on the internet and find out which shops are your personal favorites. When you buy online I would definitely recommend United Wardrobe, I love that site.
Doing clothes swaps with friends (or strangers at arranged clothing swaps) is a good way to ‘buy’ secondhand. You bring some clothes you don’t like any longer and the other participants bring some too. Then you pick whatever you want from the pile which everybody made together. This way everybody will end up with ‘new’ clothes.
Another good option is a clothing library. This works the same way as a book library, but in stead of books you share clothes with everybody. This way you’ll need less clothes than when everybody buys a full wardrobe for themselves. And the plus side, you never need to buy new clothes, because you have a gigantic wardrobe. Unfortunately, not every city has one. In the Netherlands there’s only one in Amsterdam.
3. Buy fair, local and organic
Sometimes there’s something you need, but you just can’t find it secondhand. Now, secondhand shopping takes time, I’ve searched for some things for about a year. It’ll pay off. But for when you really can’t buy secondhand, buy fair, local and organic, like I try to do with underwear. If you have to make impact, do it in the most sustainable way. Organic clothes are the first thing I look at. And if they claim to have organic clothing, check it, do they have a quality mark? The Global Organic Textile Standard or the Organic 100 Content Standard for instance. There are a lot of quality marks, check them out yourself. There are a lot of options! If possible, buy local. Maybe you know someone who makes clothes him or herself (or even better, you can make them yourself!). This saves a lot of emissions from the shipping and you’re basically paying your own neighbor. This way your community grows. If it’s local, you can ask important question too. You’ll know about the working conditions, materials used and such. When buying clothes from far away, it’s harder to check, quality marks are again a must there. If you can’t buy local, which is quite hard in The Netherlands in my opinion, you buy abroad. If you do, still go for sustainable brands (duh), but also go for fair trade. You don’t want a shirt to be organic but the people (yes, there are a lot of people who work on just one piece of clothing) who made it to starve because they get paid so little. Give them a fair paycheck and go for fair trade. Quality marks here are Fairtrade Textile Production Standard or Fair for Life, but there are many more. You can see on RankaBrand how a brand scores on different aspects of sustainable and fair clothes.
4. Choose natural materials
A while back I wrote a blogpost about an app to beat microplastics. Microplastics are in cosmetics, but also in clothes. When you choose clothing that is made out of plastic, these microplastics are released when you wash the clothes. So, it’s best to buy clothes from natural materials that aren’t plastic. You need to look out for the following things on labels: (recycled) polyester, PET, nylon, PVC, acrylic and viscose. Alternatives are cotton, lyocell (bamboo), linen and hemp (and there must be more!). To be honest I have a hard time with this sometimes too. A while ago I described my struggle to find sexy underwear without recycled polyester, it’s impossible. But I hope I will find an alternative one day. But it’s okay. I do my very best.
That’s also what I want to close with, it does not have to be perfect. These steps are my go-to and I enjoy them very much. Thrift shopping is a party to me! But, I get that it can be difficult in the beginning and you need to get a hang on it. I used to be addicted to fast fashion and so I know the struggle. It took me time too. The point is that we try to do better, we have the privilege to change this situation!
What’s your plan when you buy sustainable clothing?